Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also. Whoever serves me the Father will honor.
John 12: 26
. . . an eternal remembrance the just man shall be.
From evil rumor he shall not fear.
His heart is firm, he trusts in the LORD.
Psalm 112: 6-7
On today’s Feast of St. Lawrence we read from John’s gospel a word of encouragement to a Christian community under threat. As in many places today, the Christians of the time of the gospel live under continual threat of martyrdom. The gospel writer reminds them that even should they be called to lay down their lives, they shall be honored and cared for by the Father.
In Psalm 112 we hear, on a significantly less ultimate level, that the one whose heart is firm and who trusts in the Lord need not fear the rumors of others, What is the nature of the trust in God that would allow us to live without concern for how we are seen by others and even, perhaps, to live without fear for our lives?
Self preservation is the most powerful instinctual reaction in us. We are made to react to threats to our continuing existence. We also have built-in defenses against threats to our prestige and well-being. We know that much violence springs from persons, especially young persons, who experience not being respected by another, or by a society. Rare is the person who retains equanimity upon entering into a room where he or she is being slandered.
When I was a child, there was a daytime television program entitled “Who Do You Trust?”. This is the question that emerges today. “His heart is firm, he trusts in the Lord.” The psalms tell us: “Put not your trust in princes, in human beings in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps 146:3). Of course, we need to be able to trust other persons. However, the nature of our trust in each other always has something of a provisional quality to it. Absolute trust of that which is not absolute is impossible. The fallenness of human nature means that even with those who are closest to us, we are always in a process of learning to more fully trust each other, to discern the trustworthiness of the other. The deepest human trust is to trust even in the face of the other’s inevitable betrayal of that trust. A basic component of trust for us is the choice and willingness to forgive those I trust when they fail me, and, likewise, to seek trust again and again from those whom I love when I betray their trust.
Thus, we can never completely abandon ourselves and our lives to another human person. There is always a grain of fear and mistrust of the other, which means an ever present element of fear for my own well-being. Today’s gospel, however, speaks of the possibility of dying to the life which is so provisional and discovering a life “with Christ in God” that is on the firmest of ground. As St. Paul puts it: “If God is for us, who can be against us.” (Romans 8:31) To live by faith is to die to the self that lives primarily out of fear of not being. It is to live the truth of the first letter of John: “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18) We do this by practicing self-forgetful acts of love. The more we look at ourselves the more that fear is evoked in us. The more we act in love in the moment as best we can, the more we experience the trustworthiness of the world and of God. The practice is simple, but not easy. In the present moment, I can worry about things and about myself, or I can do whatever little thing I can. At each moment of our lives there is something being asked of us. To forget myself and to respond to the call of the moment is to trust without qualification, because the God who can be trusted is the One who both calls and who acts in me.
But when we rise above ourselves and in our ascent to God become so unified that bare love can envelop us at that high level where love itself acts, above and beyond all virtuous exercises—that is, in our source, out of which we have been spiritually born—we will then come to nought, dying in God to ourselves and to all that is our own. In this death we become hidden children of God and discover in ourselves a new life, which is eternal. It is of these children that St. Paul speaks: “You are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).
Jan van Ruusbroec, The Sparkling Stone, II, C